Category Archives: EPZ

Rethinking tax incentives in Kenya’s investment promotion efforts

A recent court ruling declaring the Kenya-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) void has sent Kenya back to the negotiating table with Mauritius. The court’s judgment is based on the fact that the DTAA was not properly ratified under Kenyan law. Kenya’s government argues that the treaty promotes investment and jobs; however, critics such as the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), which filed this suit, argue that DTAAs rarely lead to any benefits for developing countries. TJNA argues that instead, they result in massive revenue leakage for African countries which outweighs incoming foreign direct investment (FDI).

Should countries, therefore, abandon the use of DTAAs? The answer more than likely lies in the middle: to bring real benefits to the economy and promote local market potential, countries should balance between the use DTAAs and other tax incentives such as special economic zones (SEZs).

Kenya’s DTAA with Mauritius was signed in 2014 with the hope of boosting foreign direct investment, but the benefits of the agreement were poorly defined from the outset. Similar to any policy, DTAAs must be rooted in clear and measurable objectives supported by equally clear policy levers to ensure that revenue generated from the resident country is not leaked through tax avoidance schemes like profit-shifting. Studies show that DTAAs signed between countries with asymmetric investment positions are less likely to lead to any benefits for developing countries. In the Netherlands, for example, DTAAs led to forgone revenue of at least USD 863 million for developing countries in 2011.

Given Kenya’s current budget deficit of USD 3.75 billion, it is critical that efforts to attract FDI such as DTAAs do not cannibalise local efforts to improve tax revenue. Numerous studies show that countries rarely achieve substantive FDI levels to make up for the revenue losses these DTAAs cause. The failed Kenya-Mauritius DTAA is not the first time a tax agreement with the island nation has been subject to controversy: in 2017, India reviewed its DTAA with Mauritius after reports showed that it had opened room for tax avoidance resulting in revenue leakage of about USD 600 million annually. In 2016 alone, Mauritian firms injected more than USD 50 million into the Kenyan economy, a 72 percent increase from 5 years prior. If the Dutch and Indian examples are any indication, Kenya could be losing far more. Lost corporate revenue is income that Kenya urgently needs to meet its development objectives. A shift to other tax incentives whose impact is more ascertainable may be more effective for many developing countries.

If the goal of DTAAs is to increase foreign investment in Kenya, they must be considered in conjunction with the broader ecosystem of policy instruments that can be used to increase tax revenues to achieve Kenya’s four priority pillars for economic growth. The government hopes to raise the manufacturing sector’s share of the GDP from 9% to 15%, and create 1.3 million jobs in this sector by 2022. To achieve this, governments should explore specific tax incentives that can provide direct benefits to these areas, such as special economic zones, which aim to maximise the “cluster effects” of activities through knowledge and supply chain integration, centralised access to critical infrastructure like roads and electricity, as well as enhanced support from local government.

Kenya, in making strides to use other tax incentives such as Special Economic Zones, should borrow lessons from its neighbours on reaping full benefits from SEZs. Rwanda, for example, has successfully leveraged SEZs to promote growth. In 2016, the Kigali Special Economic Zone (KSEZ) employed 2% of the country’s permanent employees, and accounted for 2.5% of all VAT reported sales. In Kenya, the government has already designated Mombasa, Kisumu, and Lamu as the future SEZs but to maximise their impact and avoid the development of enclaves, it is essential that firms in these SEZs interact with firms outside the zones and that the government ensures knowledge and best practices developed are shared across the economy.

Tax incentives alone will never be the sole factor attracting investors — to increase FDI, Kenya must continue to demonstrate strong market potential by providing business support and trade facilitation services. KPMG finds that Kenyan products are among the top four countries in Africa that score above the global average in terms of competitiveness on the international market; however, it still takes an average of 22 days to start a business — compared to 6.5 days in Egypt and 14 in Ghana — and poor availability of market data can complicate efforts at local expansion. To improve the country’s competitiveness, the Kenya Investment Authority should improve the availability of data for investors by working more closely with the Kenya Bureau of Statistics. Reducing business costs, for example, by bringing down the cost of imports for required goods or improving data quality to support manufacturing and value-added services will always outweigh lowering taxes.

The DTAA ruling prompts a careful re-examination of how to increase FDI without incurring unintended knock-on effects like tax avoidance. To do this, Kenya must enhance its capacity when negotiating bilateral agreements, and enact policies to support proper implementation of these agreements. In its use of tax incentives, it is critical that the scales are always tipped in Kenya’s favour. The impact of each incentive employed must be clear and measurable to ascertain that its benefits outweigh any associated costs.

A guest post by Bathsheba Asati and Faith Nyabuto of the Botho Emerging Markets Group. 

See also: The Kenyan Guide to Mauritius for business travelers.

Kenya Income Tax Cuts, Increases, and Other changes 2018

The Kenya government, through the National Treasury, is proposing some long overdue changes to the country’s income tax laws, which are contained in a draft bill that will be submitted to Parliament.

The bill has new clauses that affect transfer pricing, new extractive (oil & gas) industries, phase out of turnover tax, and an apparent tax cuts. It comes after other recent changes to the tax code. Kenya also has an ongoing waiver and amnesty program for income tax and assets held outside Kenya to be declared and repatriated to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA)  by June 30.

Leading accounting and audit firms such as KPMG, PWC, and Deloitte have looked deep into the clauses, and these are some of their findings: 

KPMG:

  • Companies are to produce and maintain transfer pricing documentation and policies in place for the year of income.
  • The withholding tax threshold of Kshs 24,000 had been deleted.
  • Payments to non-resident petroleum contractors will be 20% (up rom the current 12.5%)
  • Developers who build over 400 houses to pay taxes of 15% on gains.
  • Micro-finance institutions (MFI’s) interest will be exempt from withholding tax.
  • Sports clubs & associations will get taxed on entrance fees and subscriptions.
  • Farms, warehouses or doing consultancy work for more than 91 days in a year are now considered permanent establishments. KPMG comment – This will require non-resident persons doing business in Kenya to re-think their operational models.
  • A listed company will pay 25% taxes for five years if 40% of its shares are floated.  KPMG  comment – this will reduce the impact of taxation as an incentive to list.

Deloitte:

  • Income tax rate of 35% on more than Kshs 750,000 (~$7,500) per month
  • Non-residents’ who receive their pensions in Kenya will pay a tax of 10% on transfers (up from 5%) 
  • A higher corporate tax of 35% for large companies with taxable income over Kshs 500 million (~$5 million).
  • Real-estate capital gains tax of 20% (up from the current 5%). Deloitte comment – Though the increment is quite steep, it enhances equity considering that CGT is regarded as a tax on wealth.
  • Equality: Each person in a marriage is now required to file their own tax returns: no more cases of wives having their incomes filed under husband’s income tax returns.  
  • Mining & Oil: Losses can be carried forward for a maximum of 14 years (There is no current cap)
  • EPZ holiday removed: Now EPZ’s will pay 10% tax for the first 10 years, and 15% for the next ten years (other companies pay 30% corporate tax).
  • SACCO’s: Cooperative societies to pay a withholding tax on dividends and bonuses of 10% (up from the current 5%) 
  • Subsidiaries in Kenya to pay 10% tax on dividends remitted to the parent companies.
  • E-commerce: The Treasury Cabinet Secretary will be allowed to introduce taxes on digital platforms.
  • Capital allowances reduced: The 150% allowance for investments outside cities has been removed, those for filming equipment reduced from 100% to 50%, and educational institutions from 50% to 10%.
  • Small businesses, that are licensed by counties, will pay a presumptive tax of 15% of the business permit fee. Deloitte comment – (this) replace the turnover tax, currently at the rate of 3% of a person’s turnover (KRA has faced challenges collecting) ..  will require collaboration with the county governments. 

PWC

  • All medical insurance paid by employers for employees is now tax-exempt (even for expatriate staff) and age limits for children covered goes up from 21 to 24 years.
  • withholding tax of 5% will be levied on payments to foreign insurance companies. PWC comment – this is aimed at promoting local insurance companies.
  • Income tax exemptions that have been dropped include income of the Export-Import Bank of the USA (relates to Kenya Airways?). Also on the income of stockbrokers from trading in listed shares. PWC comment – this may have a negative impact on the growth of the capital markets in Kenya;
  • 20% withholding tax on payment to non-Kenyan companies for horticultural exports. 
  • 20% withholding tax on payment of air-tickets to non-resident agents. PWC comment – may lead to increase in airline ticket prices in Kenya which may affect competitiveness of local airlines.

They also looked at other recent tax adjustments which PWC notes will mainly alleviate the government from paying VAT refunds.

  • Milk, maize, bread, bottled water, will all cost more after moving from “0%” VAT to “exempt” VAT as importers will pass on non-recoverable VAT to consumers.
  • Same for LPG gas, some medicines and agricultural pest control inputs.
  • Making housing affordable. PWC comment – the Government is also proposing a stamp duty exemption for the purchase of a house by a first time home owner under an affordable housing scheme
  • Betting/Gambling: For winnings, a 20% tax will be deducted at source i.e the betting company) on any prizes (this is up from the current 5%)

Other Clauses in the Income Tax bill

  • Parent companies are to file country-by-country reports with KRA within 12 months of year-end.
  • No capital gains tax is due on land if it is compulsorily acquired by the government.
  • No capital gains on listed securities.  
  • While there is a new 35% tax for the rich, the income tax bill appears to lower taxes for the low-income.  e.g. someone earning Kshs 40,000 (~$400) per month, who pays 5,932 in tax per month now after personal relief, will have a lower tax burden.  Income tax bands are expanded in the 10% range (now up to 13,000 from the previous 10,000) and there is also a higher relief of Kshs 1,408 versus the current 1,162) and the resulting net tax for the person will now be Kshs 5,009 for the month – a 15% income tax cut?.  
  • Tax rate of 15% for five years for local vehicle assemblers. This can be extended by another 5 years if the company achieves 50% local content value in the vehicles.  
  • Taxes waived on the income of disabled persons, amateur sports associations, and NGO’s (relief, poverty, religion, distress) whose regional headquarters are located in Kenya.  

Finally, other stakeholders are invited to review the proposed changes to the 103-page income tax bill and submit comments via email to ITReview2017_at_treasury.go.ke by May 24.

Kenya invests in Currency Printing

Kenya is entering into a joint venture with De La Rue who has been printing the country’s currency for many years in Ruaraka, Nairobi.

London’s stock exchange (LSE) listed De La Rue is the world’s largest designer and commercial printer of banknotes, operates a currency printing plant and has produced Kenya currency notes for several years. As part of the deal, De La Rue will sell 40% of a, currently dormant, De La Rue Kenya EPZ subsidiary to the Kenya government for £5 million (~Kshs 660 million).

The 2016 De La Rue annual report notes that banknote market is over-supplied, and with the 26% of the global bank note market, the company is consolidating and restructuring its operations.

Cool currency cake from @vickystreats254

Cool currency cake from @vickystreats254

  • We will restructure our print manufacturing footprint in the next two years to reduce our capacity and cost base by reducing the number of print lines and consolidating banknote print productions to four locations: Kenya, Sri Lanka, Debden and Gateshead (UK).
  • “De La Rue is delighted to have extended our longstanding relationship with the Government of Kenya into an ever closer partnership. The joint venture fits with our strategy of expanding into key growth markets through long-term partnerships.
  • By operating an EPZ (export processing zone) facility they will be able to   “secure our position as a supply hub of currency and security solutions for the largest economy in East Africa and for the region.”

 Note

See more on currency printing in Africa 

£1 = Kshs 132